Has watching Too Many Cooks 108 times left you feeling empty and craving more? After experiencing the 80s-sitcom-inspired gore-heavy fever dream, are you one of the many out there still experiencing symptoms of boredom when faced with standard-issue primetime TV fare, disgust at unnecessaries like plot and likable characters, as well as a deep-seated need to re-watch ALF and Adventures Of The Galaxy Rangers? If you have this problem, if no amount of trawling YouTube can help… maybe you should stick around here and let me lead you through some Cooks-alike stuff from Adult Swim’s current shows and back catalogue…
…but, before we delve in, hold up and consider. I must warn you that prolonged exposure to low-fi fuzzy VHS visuals, warped sound, and subverted TV and filmic tropes – which the Cartoon Network’s older, stranger brother has been helping to slowly sneak into the cultural subconscious since its launch – can result in certain very specific side-effects related to each of its shows. So take a deep breath and try to relax as we sink down into stream-of-conscious surrealism, bowel movement jokes, and gore…
Tom Goes to the Mayor (premiered 2004)
Sample: “My name is Mike Fox and I’ve lost 13 of my own children…”
At first glance, Tom Goes To The Mayor’s animated ten minute bursts look like gentle mockery of small town America, with its opening credits introducing Jefferton’s core town values of “Community Spirit! Shopping! Food!” but stick around and it starts to get offbeat very quickly. Stripped-down stills of actors’ frozen exaggerated gestures tell the story of eager to please entrepreneur Tom Peters, newest resident of the town, and its possibly-psychotic Mayor.
Each episode’s plot (we have plot here!) is linear as Tom pitches an idea to the Mayor, things go wrong, the town burns/people die, but elements that are now central to the Adult Swim aesthetic peek through in the live-action sections that come from the Mayor’s television set. Low-tech animation, exaggerated squelching noises, repetition, screen-freezes, and general VHS-quality hell show up at random points in each episode, as well as repulsive-sounding products and services available for purchase. Cup of Sauceman’s shrimp-flavoured soda, anyone? The full two series won’t overly disturb, and are a good starter before heading further into Adult Swim waters.
Effects of exposure: paranoia and suspicion of local government/cravings for a cup of Sauceman’s
Check it Out! with Dr. Steve Brule (premiered 2010)
Sample: “Guess what it tastes like – as sour as my daddy’s lips”
Check it Out! With Dr. Steve Brule sees John C. Reilly’s confused doctor present a Panorama-style investigation programme, each episode comprising of a free-form poem delivered to camera, slurred words, a dream sequence when Steve falls asleep during an interview spot, and ending with a summation of what we’ve all learned during our time together. And boy do we learn a lot, as Steve tackles important topics like prumpets (puppets), mumberslangkles (motorcycles), denga-tangs (orang-utans) and spaghetti houses (?), all as he continues to struggle with his lifelong battle with diarringus.
Dr Brule’s five-year-old-who-needs-a-bathroom-break/uncle-who-makes-you-uncomfortable manner won’t creep you out too much, but the puppet-attack dream sequence might. After watching a full series, you’ll mainly be wishing you could get your hands on Married News Team Anchor Jan Skylar’s roast beefs and spaghetti house (?), and calling everyone you know a dengus.
Effects of exposure: slightly slurred speech/diarringus
The Eric Andre Show (premiered 2012)
Sample: “Ladies and gentleman – I cut myself while I masturbate – Vivica Fox!”
As local news and public access broadcasting is skewed in the live-action sequences of Tom Goes To The Mayor as well as in Check It Out!, here another staple American TV genre is ripped apart and imbued with a nasty edge in The Eric Andre Show: the late-night talk show. Andre starts each ep by destroying the set while his in-house band plays the jazzy theme tune, before slumping onto his hosting chair and dejectedly getting his breath back as the crew put it all back together around him, and co-host Hannibal Burress strolls in to canned applause.
Sycophantic celebrity interviewing standard to the chat show format becomes “did you kill that girl in Aruba?” or “do you think I should join LinkedIn?” and asinine spots like ‘What If It Was Purple?’ and ‘Money Time’ with Dominic Monaghan make the host throw up into his lap, or slip into ennui while the camera zooms in on his face. I don’t know if it’s really a carefully thought-out satire of celebrity culture and the dumbing down of television programming, but I do know how to burn a production crew member’s face with a waffle iron now.
Effects of exposure: scepticism towards tired TV cliches/violent psychotic breaks
The Heart She Holler (premiered 2013)
Sample: “I’m offering a free punch in the yoghurt”
In The Heart She Holler we head away from the unsettling effects of slowed-down film, overlays and dizzying editing from Tom, Steve, and Eric to some straight-up honest scares scattered among the low-brow toilet, sex, and word-play jokes (we’re sticking with those). The Southern-Gothic-Horror-Comedy’s plot concerns the largely inbred Heartshe family and their battles against each other to gain control of their town, the Holler. Dead daddy Heartshe communicates with his son Hurlan through a collection of video tapes (like Jor-El’s knowledge crystals for Superman, but crap) while messy Hurshe and telekinetic Carrie-lookalike Hambrosia scheme against their dad’s evil machinations.
The viscera budget for this show must be through the roof considering all the gore that goes into each episode but you’ll get used to that – the jump scares come in whenever Meemaw shows up. That’s her…up there *gulp*. I’ve never been this much on edge during a comedy programme, not even The Michael McIntyre Chat Show.
But… what’s probably most uneasy about this one is the moments where its satire of bigotry and intolerance crosses over into ‘ironic racism’ (aka just racism). And it could do without the rape and incest jokes. Because that’s really scary.
Effects of exposure: Left-wing liberal unease/re-assessment of The Michael McIntyre Chat Show
Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! (premiered 2007)
Sample: “Kids, you gotta keep your meats ice-cold. I know you like your baloney soft”
And here we fully descend into the unformed and unfiltered subconscious with Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! – Surrealist Adult Swim ichor in its purest form. It doesn’t just have a title that doesn’t make sense, the content of the whole programme doesn’t make much of a lick either. Characters from Tom (also written/performed/etc. by Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim and Friends) – like Married News Team Jan and Wayne Skylar – are carried over to this show, as well as the squelching noises, but plot didn’t make the journey. Instead it’s all non-sequitur sketches, “Name ten things that aren’t Jackie Chan” and gold lame-clad fellas called Pierre who’re obsessed with meats and getting your dad’s email address. And those who’re into child clowns and Dr. Steve Brule (Steve made his debut on this show) will also find much to enjoy and be puzzled by.
Some character pieces – like Casey and his brother’s performances of guttural noises, squeaks and vomiting – can be jarring at first, but if you make it through all five seasons while your personality breaks down, you’ll start to spot its influence in TV shows, ads, films and comedy routines all around you, not to mention those 108 viewings of Too Many Cooks.
Effects of Exposure: Jackie Chan – ugh!